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What We're Looking Forward To At The Toronto International Film Festival

(Clockwise from top left) Steve Carell, Timothee Chalamet, Christian Convery, Oakley Bull and Maura Tierney star in <em>Beautiful Boy, </em>which is featured at the Toronto International Film Festival.
(Clockwise from top left) Steve Carell, Timothee Chalamet, Christian Convery, Oakley Bull and Maura Tierney star in Beautiful Boy, which is featured at the Toronto International Film Festival.

As you read this, the NPR Movies team is settling into their seats in movie theaters across downtown Toronto. For the next week, we'll be sitting in those seats or ones very similar to them, in the dark, taking furious notes, as we each power through marathon sessions of movie-watching.

The Toronto International Movie Festival (TIFF), which has been running since 1976, is the largest in North America. This year, from Sept. 6-16, hundreds of feature films, documentaries and shorts from around the world will be screened, in many cases months before they land in the nation's movie houses or on streaming services. Q&A sessions will happen, at which celebrities will gamely pretend never to have heard an audience member's question before. And movie critics will scuttle from screening to screening, rubbing their sore tailbones and cramming food down their gullets, stepping only rarely, blinking, into the harsh sunlight of the upper world.

NPR's Bob Mondello, Linda Holmes and Bilal Qureshi have attended TIFF several times; they know how to navigate the madness. But I (Glen Weldon) have never been before. I asked them each to tell me what films they were most looking forward to this year.


If Beale Street Could Talk

Tish (Kiki Layne) and Foney (Stephan James) in <em>If Beale Street Could Talk.</em>
Tish (Kiki Layne) and Foney (Stephan James) in If Beale Street Could Talk.

Director Barry Jenkins follows up Moonlight with this adaptation of the 1974 James Baldwin novel about a woman attempting to free her wrongly accused husband from prison before the birth of her child.

Linda: "Obviously Barry Jenkins has shown himself to be a director to watch, and this cast is amazing — I mean Regina King, Brian Tyree Henry, come on." The leads — Kiki Layne and Stephan James — may not be household names yet, but Linda says that doesn't matter. "Barry Jenkins is a director I trust."


Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) and Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) look sheepish in <em>Wildlife</em>.
Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) and Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) look sheepish in Wildlife.

Actor Paul Dano's directorial debut tells the story of the dissolution of a married couple played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan, from the point of view of their teenage son (Ed Oxenbould) in 1960s Montana. Based on the Richard Ford book.

Linda: "Zoe Kazan, whom I like a lot, wrote this with her partner Paul Dano, who directed. I really liked Ruby Sparks, which was their last collaboration. Plus this movie has an amazing trailer — you watch it and you just think: Yep. I'm in."


L to R: Alice (Elizabeth Debicki),  Veronica (Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Belle (Cynthia Erivo) in <em>Widows</em>.
L to R: Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), Veronica (Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Belle (Cynthia Erivo) in Widows.

In his first feature film since 12 Years A Slave, director Steve McQueen presents this thriller, co-written with Gillian Flynn, about four women whose comfortable lives are imperiled when their criminal husbands are murdered, and there are considerable debts to pay.

Linda: "I mean it's Viola Davis and Steve McQueen. That's all I gotta know, personally."


Beautiful Boy

Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet star in this drama about a father struggling with his son's addiction. Based on the memoirs of David and Nic Sheff.

Bob: "Having seen Chalamet tackle the role of a high-achieving, perfect son in Call Me By Your Name last year, I'm curious to see him go in the opposite direction, into a place of real darkness and pain and struggle."

El Angel

Carlos (Lorezno Ferro) and Marisol (Malena Villa) take aim in <em>El Angel</em>.
Carlos (Lorezno Ferro) and Marisol (Malena Villa) take aim in El Angel.

This film about an infamous baby-faced serial killer who haunted Buenos Aires in the early '70s recently premiered in Argentina, where it quickly became a sensation.

Bob: "I spend a few months in Buenos Aires every summer, and this year there was no getting away from this movie. It's a hugely famous case there, and this film is the biggest thing in Argentinian cinema history — lines around the block, every showing. I was desperate to see it while there, but I don't speak enough Spanish — so I'm looking forward to seeing it subtitled, so I can learn what all the fuss is about."

A Star Is Born

Jackson (Bradley Cooper) and Ally (Lady Gaga) jam in <em>A Star is Born</em>.
Jackson (Bradley Cooper) and Ally (Lady Gaga) jam in A Star is Born.

Bradley Cooper stars in, and makes his directorial debut with, this latest retelling of the classic show-business yarn. This time, it's a country music setting, and the young chanteuse who gets discovered is played by Lady Gaga.

Bob: "I think I've seen 'em all — Gaynor! Garland! Babs! Clearly the story, like the breakout hit from the 1976 version, is ... evergreen. And Lady Gaga is cool casting. If Cooper can carry a note while directing, this could be serious fun."



Silvio Berlusconi (Toni Servillo) enjoys a moment poolside in <em>Loro</em>.
Silvio Berlusconi (Toni Servillo) enjoys a moment poolside in Loro.

This fictionalized, ruthlessly satiric account of Italian tycoon/ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his inner circle represents the second time director Paolo Sorrentino has skewered Italian politics (2008's Il Divo tracked the fall of Italian Prime Minister Andreotti.)

Bilal says he's excited about Loro because he so loved Sorrentino's 2013 film The Great Beauty, in which a man who's seduced his way through life suddenly takes stock of existence — in all its absurdity — on his 65th birthday.

Everybody Knows

Laura (Penelope Cruz) and old boyfriend Paco (Javier Bardem) in <em>Everybody Knows</em>.
Laura (Penelope Cruz) and old boyfriend Paco (Javier Bardem) in Everybody Knows.

Iranian director — and two-time Academy Award winner — Asghar Farhadi presents a thriller where familial tensions bubble under the surface when a kidnapping interrupts a large Spanish wedding. Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem star.

Bilal is eager to see the director's next film after his masterful works like 2011's A Separation.

Angels Are Made Of Light

Students and teachers at Kabul's Daqiqi Balkhi School are the subjects of the documentary <em>Angels Are Made of Light.</em>
Students and teachers at Kabul's Daqiqi Balkhi School are the subjects of the documentary Angels Are Made of Light.

Twelve years after the lyrical and impressionistic film Iraq in Fragments, American documentarian James Longley trains his camera on the students and teachers at a school in Kabul, and lets them tell their stories in their own words.

Bilal says he was particularly taken by Longley's 2006 film, which he calls "hypnotic and beautiful." He's eager to see the director's latest.


Papi Chulo

Sean (Matt Bomer) looking beatific in <em>Papi Chulo</em>.
Sean (Matt Bomer) looking beatific in Papi Chulo.

I'm a big fan of Irish writer-director John Butler's Handsome Devil, which was charming and witty and came at the gay coming-of-age story at an oblique angle, making it new.

This film, in which the disquietingly symmetrical Matt Bomer plays a Los Angeles weatherman who has a breakdown and figures the best way to recover is by hiring a Mexican day-laborer to listen to Bomer whinge about his life, seems likely to skirt some dodgy race issues, but — I'm hopeful/confident — in a knowing way.

Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy

Laura (Laura Dern) and "JT LeRoy" (Kristen Stewart) in <em>Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy</em>.
Laura (Laura Dern) and "JT LeRoy" (Kristen Stewart) in Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy.

The too-weird-to-be-true tale of writer Laura Albert — who became a literary sensation when she created the pseudonym JT LeRoy, a wholly invented gay teenage sex worker, and then somehow convinced her sister-in-law (!) to pose as LeRoy in public — deserves a film. The fact that the film in question stars Kristen Stewart and Laura Freaking Dern is just icing on this crazy-bananapants cake.

Vox Lux

Celeste (Natalie Portman) in <em>Vox Lux.</em>
Celeste (Natalie Portman) in Vox Lux.

We know almost nothing about this film, except that Natalie Portman plays a pop star who mines her personal tragedy for mass entertainment. That isn't a lot of information, granted — and yet it turns out to be more than enough to get my butt into a seat.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: September 6, 2018 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous version of this story said the film Wildlife takes place in 1906 in Montana. It's actually 1960s Montana.
Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.
Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.
Bob Mondello
Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
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